Heather Hapeta lives in Aotearoa-New Zealand: real travel, real adventures, real stories, real photos. Recent destinations Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan and Hong Kong – now NZ destinations due to COVID travel restrictions
Do you travel with others or alone? What are the pros and cons? And once this virus is under ‘control’ how will you travel? Alone or with others?
Which do you prefer – on a bus with strangers; with a friend; with your partner, or independently?
Whichever you choose, your travel journey becomes different because of that choice! I mostly prefer solo, independent travel – however, I have friends who think there could be nothing worse! I once travelled in parts of Europe on a bus with strangers – at every stop, we were always waiting for someone and that drove me nuts.
When travelling with a friend, we have to be very specific about what is, and isn’t, acceptable -especially if you’re sharing a room. Of course, it’s very easy to say, but sometimes it’s hard to do -leaving one of you, sometimes constantly, inwardly fuming. It’s very easy for one of you to minimise your requests, wants, or needs.
Over the years, during times of travelling with another person, these have been the issues of being confronted with. Not always easy to solve – although if you both can compromise 50% of the time things work out.
Someone with a well-developed fear of germs and food that’s ‘different’
Night owls who want to talk – I’m an early bird
Coughing, but not taking, or refusing to buy, medication
Proposing things to do, we agree, then changing their mind – resulting in more convoluted conversations about option A B or C
Struggling while carrying many bags instead of one or 2
Train travel only because ‘a friend said the buses were dangerous’
What has been your experiences of travelling alone, or with others? What problems have you encountered, and what advice would you give to someone who was planning travel?
Waterproof and dust proof bags are often essential
How to run away from home & reinvent yourself by travelling: a personal recipe
Start as a child with a love of reading. For me, this involved hiding under the blankets reading of far-away places that created a desire for travel: I was Anne Frank in her Amsterdam attic; and, I was Heidi on the mountains of Switzerland: I was the hero between the covers of every book!
Add listening to far away, static-crackling voices in languages I didn’t understand on my brother’s crystal radio, and dream of exploring those lives! An idea, the yeast of a dream, began bubbling below the surface of my conciseness. The first, most basic ingredients for my developing recipe were lined up on the kitchen bench of my mind.
Cover and leave that bowl of imagination to infiltrate through life’s ups and downs, keep reading, keep dreaming until life and circumstances add more ingredients. These extra components are where your individuality, situation, and conditions, add to the recipe and finally, the end result! (NOTE: Unlike many recipes, this one is totally tailored to your individual circumstances.)
My extra ingredients included: the deaths of my 20-year old son and my 35yr old husband, recovery from alcoholism, and, after too many birthdays, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up!
Perhaps I could play catch-up with the traditional Kiwi penchant for travel. That germ of an idea, like all living things, divides and multiplies as it sits on the sometimes-messy kitchen bench of my mind.
Now, add more ingredients so you too can reinvent yourself – mine were:
Travel for a year
Make no plans or bookings, just travel
On returning, after a year, I added:
Two years of work & saving
A short writing course
Have an article about canoeing down the Zambesi published
Sell more travel stories; add those dollars to my travel fund
Buy another international airline ticket
Travel for another year in different countries
Publish a book about your travels
This recipe is never finished yet you can cook it, eat it, and share it daily. The flavours and textures change frequently – depending on if you have used the high heat of Thailand or the coolness of a northern hemisphere winter, and, of course, your choice of spices.
So, if you too want to run away from home or reinvent yourself, pick your ingredients from the lists above, add your own, use your imagination, mix well, and as ‘they’ whoever they are, say, “the world’s your oyster.”
How to be an ethical traveller is simple and your ethical choices will make a difference to the people you meet
don’t slavishly follow a guidebook – when you do that you will just end up in crowded places. Do research on any sort of tour you are going on; are they a green company?do they invest back into the community
Learn something about the place you go to – respecting how they act is not the same as agreeing with it – be culturally sensitive, don’t make judgements, be willing to and of learn dress appropriately for where you are
buy from locals and eat street food,
stay in locally owned accommodation places – take shorter showers – hang up your towels for reuse. Don’t waste electricity
use local transport when possible – one person in the car is not eco-friendly so always share
dispose of your own rubbish correctly – you can even pick up someone else’s rubbish!
watch animals in the wild – don’t disturb them – keep your distance – don’t touch or feed them – don’t use flash photography – don’t pose for photos with captured animals – most of which have been beaten into submission
minimise your carbon footprint
carry your own water bottle and food container
travel is not a competition – we are not impressed with the number of countries you have visited
Here is an essay I wrote before about ethical travel:
Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher percentage rate of people with passports than, say, Americans, for example. There are also many countries in the world where people will never have a passport – and of course, poor countries are much more likely to be visited than to produce travellers.
I’m a travelophile. When I travel I feel good and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to and not need to go the flavour of the month so can be in places that are not on the tourist trail. I get to be a cultural tourist in that I stay longer in places and get to know people; absorb the local flavour.
This means that although I don’t often sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism?
My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are, very briefly, that’s it an activity that has the least impact while providing the greatest benefits.
Independent travellers are the ones most likely (but not always) be the closest to being real eco-travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country – those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs to the locals – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.
Unfortunately, tourist money is often creamed the off a country in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave, taking the money with them, or multinational hotels who don’t even pay tax in a country.
Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – the very trash that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.
I’m reminded of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However, I know that alongside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.
The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.
This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”
Combining the universal codes of ‘pack it in pack it out’ and ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’ along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.
Independent solo traveller’s, or backpackers may be the closest to being real eco-travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country– those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.
Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a natural part many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.
Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes, the natural sights ( and sites!) and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does stay with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave, taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.
We think of New Zealand – and market the country – as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground. Have we (or travel agents) have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sites they’ must see’, activities they should take part in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound could have – buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors (and fumes from the buses) to see wonderful pristine sights. An oxymoron? This of course is not only a New Zealand problem.
The slogan 100% pure New Zealand was created as an advertising slogan with no reference at all to being clean and green – what it was talking about in those early days was that we would give visitors a 100% New Zealand experience – so pure New Zealand, not a copy of other places.
Sadly, a generation or two later, that has been forgotten, and people often think it means we’re 100% clean and green.
It doesn’t, and we aren’t, but we’re working on it.
Please help us give you a one hundred percent pure Kiwi hospitality and please, please, use our toilets and rubbish containers – do not leave such stuff on the side of the road, or in our bush.
Over the past few days I’ve listened to Elvis singing, sat through rhythm and blues on Beale Street and now the musical theme continues in New Orléans.
Arriving in the dark at the usual grotty bus-depot, I agree to an offer of a taxi. The driver, carrying my pack, walks out the doors to his cab where an argument immediately starts. A tough-looking, rotund man is trying to grab my pack from driver number one; it seems my driver has jumped the queue. This second driver is insisting I go with him, his taxi is in the front of the queue and the young man looks at me and shrugs his shoulders: it seems I get to go with the bully. Reluctantly I get in the cab – it’s dirty, smelly and the upholstery is ripped – I feel a little unsafe.
We speed though dark streets and, after a few turns, when I’ve totally lost my sense of direction, I begin to worry: seriously worry. Finally, one more turn and we’re in a well-lit street where he pulls up at the hostel.
‘Don’t go walking around here at night lady – it can be dangerous’ he tells me.
In the morning, the hostel is buzzing. I’ve slept through a murder.
Not long after I’d arrived, a young man – a local – was shot three times and died on the hostel doorstep. A drug-deal gone wrong is the common consensus but drug deal or not, I’ll try to look like a local: my camera and bag left behind, my money tucked into a pocket.
Sometimes things, and taxi drivers, are not as I, fearfully, imagine. If you want to travel alone this is a great how-to book.
Firstly I must declare my prejudice – I am a lone traveller. That is my preference, born out of nature and experience.
My group travel is limited: an overland truck tour on the southern African continent with strangers; plane and bus travel with a group of Kiwis attending an international convention then adding a three-week tour in the USA, and recently, a few days with a group of Californians in New Zealand to do some hiking. So this column is based on some brief concentrated group travel and observations. Totally biased you could say.
What are the advantages of group travel? As with my African experience, I saw a lot more in a short time than I could have possibly done on my own. Someone else had done the research, created the itinerary, smoothed the way and that gave me an overview of what I would like to do on my return to Africa.
When I’ve discussed this topic with travellers many say it feels safer, is cheaper as they didn’t have to pay a single supplement – the bane of the lone traveller- it’s cheaper also in the bulk buying rates of transport or accommodation and of course, the good company of like-minded people when the trip has a purpose.
Conversely it is not always plain sailing. A snorer like me may be assigned as your room-mate. The Sierra clubbers were great, prompt – no waiting for stragglers as I had to with the group of kiwis – always the same one or two no matter what the threats.
However for me, a low-planning-wanderer, the African trip was hard because in a tour there is no freedom for changing the itinerary. I found places I wanted to explore and couldn’t, and even worse, I felt separated from the very people I wanted to meet.
Although we shopped in markets for supplies we did it in groups of 2 or 3 which made it difficult for us to interact with the locals in any real way. It seems all tours mostly socialise together, and even when on the bus, truck, or train, seem more interested in talking to each other for long periods rather than take in the views. This mixing together, as on the tours I took, meant I was less aware of local customs, beliefs, or language than when alone.
As you can see, the pros and cons of group travel is really subjective and I’m making sweeping generalisations. I suggest you discuss this with friends who have toured.
However the final difference can look like this:
The tour leader tells you. ‘Tomorrow morning breakfast will be here in the hotel dinning room at 7 30am. We leave for the border at 8 15 so make sure your bags are outside your room ready for collection before you come down for breakfast.’
When alone it is more like this. Wake up at 5 am to the rustling plastic bags of an early riser in the dormitory you are sharing with others. Go wandering the streets at 6 am for breakfast, eat it in the company of tuk-tuk drivers and wonder why every one has both a cup of coffee and tea in front of them. You hire one of the drivers to pick you up at 8am to take you to the border only half an hour away. He takes you but you find you haven’t got a vital piece of paper the last official told you were no longer needed. You struggle with a combination of English and the local language, watch the bus drive through with the minimum of fuss and some two hours later, passport stamped you finally arrive in a new country.
While the tour is exploring the local temples and has a free afternoon to buy souvenirs the bus can carry, it is now time for you to find somewhere to sleep. Lonely Planet’s recommendation is full, has closed or changed its’ name and the next one seems miles away.
Your choice is simple, tour or budget solo, as I have heard “you pays your money and takes your chances!”